Local government units sabotaging telco rollout

President Rodrigo Duterte’s exasperation with the slow interconnectivity in the Philippines and poor services of telecommunications companies has led to the exposure of the real culprit behind this decades-old problem―local government units.

LGU executives from provincial governors and mayors down to the barangay “kapitan” played their respective parts in the delay of cell tower rollouts throughout the archipelago. President Duterte specifically slammed barangay captains. “To the barangay captains, stop acting like God in your barangays. You are just a human being. I’m sure that you know nothing or little at all about governance if you are there into corruption,” the country’s chief executive said in a televised address Sunday.

The Philippines ranks poorly in the ease of doing business compared with its peers in Southeast Asia. The nation is faring worse in the telecommunications industry. The construction of one cell tower, for instance, requires 29 to 35 permits from both the LGUs and concerned national government agencies. The whole process of securing clearances takes about 9 to 22 months before actual construction can start. 

LGUs play a starring role in the red tape. A telecom company is required to secure 13 structural permits that will take three to five months to process. These include zoning clearances from the Housing and Land Use Regulatory Board, city or municipal resolution, mayor’s permit, special land use permit, locational clearance, building permit, electrical permit, sanitation permit and mechanical permit.

Telecom firms must obtain three permits pertaining to social acceptability, or consent from homeowners living near the cell site, a process that requires one to two months to process. Lessor and right-of-way negotiations for the cell site involve four documents to fill up, another step that will take one to two months.

The barangay, meanwhile, has its own hurdle that takes another month to process.

Former Department of Information and Communications Technology Secretary Eliseo Rio is not amused at the slow pace of construction in the Philippines. Foreign providers and contractors had already rolled out 10 towers in other countries. In contrast, they have not started a single tower in the Philippines because they were bogged down by the bureaucratic red tape in the LGU level.

“The ‘illegal’ red tape is not much a problem as they [telco infra providers] encounter this in other countries, they say. It is the ‘legal’ red tape―numerous permits that require so many signatures―that is the problem,” says Rio in his Facebook post.

“The reputation of mobile network operators that they were raking in revenues much more than other companies because of texting, made them targets for revenue generation not only by LGUs, but the NPA (New People’s Army) and some unscrupulous officials,” he said.

The Philippines, according to him, has the lowest tower density in Southeast Asia considering that it was the first to build towers for mobile networks. Vietnam has 70,000 towers against the Philippines’ 22,000.

The construction of more cell towers in the Philippines, hopefully, should pick up after President Duterte got wind of the problems from Globe Telecom Inc. president Ernest Cu.

President Duterte gave LGUs three days to finish the processing of documents required of telecom companies planning to build towers in order to improve their services. He threatened to file cases against local officials who fail to comply with his order.

“I’m telling you now, municipal, city or I do not know if the provincial board is included, if you do not release (the permit), beginning today, I’m going to give you exactly three days to report to the DILG (Department of the Interior and Local Government), city, provincial,” Mr. Duterte said.

Globe complained that the sector had been dealing with too much government red tape that was slowing down telecom upgrades in the Philippines. The company confirmed that the “long drawn permitting process” across local government units had impaired the construction of  capital-intensive towers.

Cu has conceded that telecom companies have dealt with the same problem in past administrations, adding they pay a number of miscellaneous fees and different types of tower fees in building towers.

“Think of it, sir, if we apply for 5,000 towers times 28 or 30 permits, how many thousands of permits will we need to get to be able to start?” Cu asked.

Mr. Cu’s rhetorical question is attuned to the time of pandemic. Interconnectivity has gained relevance in these days of e-learning and education, cashless payments, online medical consultations and work-from-home arrangements.


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Topics: Ray Enano , President Rodrigo Duterte , Local government units , LGUs , telecommunications companies , Globe Telecom Inc. , cell tower rollouts
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